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Hoops tourney fires up middle-schoolers

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RONAN — The air was filled with the sweet smell of basketball and competition last weekend as Ronan Middle School hosted its fourth annual 5-on-5 basketball tournament. 

Ronan basketball coach Steve Woll said planning for the event begins in November, and while there is a great deal of work put toward the tournament every year, the end result makes it all worth it. 

“There have been some great games, man,” Woll said with an ear-to-ear grin. “There have been some big-time barn-burners, and the kids love it. You should see some of those little kids out there ... They’re fired up and they’re jacked up.”

One such player, Colton Graham of Ronan, said he had a lot of fun during the tournament. 

“I was excited for my first tournament,” Graham beamed. “Fun. Lots and lots of fun.”

The tournament is a yearly fundraiser for Ronan’s boys and girls basketball program and draws fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-graders from all over Western Montana. This year’s tournament included teams from Ronan, Polson, Frenchtown, Charlo, Deer Lodge, St. Regis, Plains, Bigfork, Hamilton and Eureka, to name a few.

“It was fun,” said first-year Polson coach Matt Dalbey.

“This is my first time but it seemed like a well-run tournament.”

All proceeds go toward extra equipment not covered by the school district. In years past, when the event was 100-percent volunteer, Woll said the tournament netted around $7,000. Even with nearly $3,000 paid out to referees, scorekeepers and bookkeepers, the tournament nets a significant amount of funding for Ronan’s program. 

And, unlike many other tournaments in the area, this particular event has no clear-cut winners or losers.

“We don’t do results,” Woll said. “It’s about playing time. The brackets are predetermined, so coaches already know how many games they’re going to play, who they’re playing and when they’re playing. There’s no champions, no prizes, nothing like that. It’s just playing time for kids to get better at their game.”

This philosophy seemed to sit well with everyone in attendance, coaches and players included. It wasn’t about winning or losing, and there was no trophy or cash prize for first place — there was no first place. Instead, it was about area basketball programs coming together under one roof to support each other and let their players have fun. 

“They’re having fun,” Dalbey said. “I think the most important thing is for the kids to have fun and improve their skills in basketball.”


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